OPINION: Harnessing media potential in the fight against climate change
I have found that activists, advocates and even policy-makers complain that the mass media ignores ‘their issue’. The general charge is the media’s lack of commitment to social issues and its focus on sensational and juicy stories. What people often ignore is that the media, just like any other industry, follows its constituencies, and hence reports what it deems appropriate for its market. The media follows stories that are considered newsworthy and interesting for its readers. Issues that are deemed newsworthy have a much better chance of being picked up.
It is therefore up to the advocates to ensure they have the right product to attract the pens, microphones and cameras of newsmen for wider dissemination.
In this context, a new policy brief by Climate Change Media Partnership, Why media matters in a warming world: A guide for policymakers in the global South, is a very welcome addition to the body of knowledge already available on the topic. The publication is an effort to highlight the importance of media partnerships for fighting climate change and the need to effectively engage the media, not only through various capacity building efforts targeting journalists, but also through organisations learning how to communicate their messages better. The latter, I believe, is as important as the former. As a former journalist, I can relate many incidences where I missed certain stories not because of a lack of will to follow them but due to the fact that I did not get the right information in the right form through the right source.
Journalists are usually not subject specialists. In a typical South Asian country, a journalist is expected to cover a number of beats, and it’s very difficult to cover all the nitty gritty of the technical subjects. The onus therefore lies on those responsible for communicating with the media to ensure they are provided information in the right packaging and with the right positioning. The policy brief makes this point very well, and puts the onus of engaging with media on the policy-makers, in order to ensure that media is not just considered a source of creating awareness but as a partner whose role is acknowledged in climate-smart policy initiatives.
The brief finds that while this might be happening in a few developing countries such as Bangladesh, others might be missing this crucial point, which can help them win or lose the fight against climate change. The brief emphasises the importance for policy-makers to focus on capacity building of the media to cover climate change better, improve communication between media and concerned agencies for regular updates on technical and policy issues, and engage marginalised communities through community radio and other such initiatives, to ensure that all voices are heard.
Fayyaz Ahmad Khan is CDKN Asia Region’s Knowledge Management and Communication Coordinator